GONZO: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson – [FILM]

Friday, 25 April 2008

There's something about Hunter S. Thompson that has affected so many people I know in a way not unlike a monumental politician or religious leader. Most of my friends can recount how they first learned of him, the impact he had on their lives and the sadness they felt at his unsurprising self-inflicted passing. For writers in particular, he managed to elevate our field to almost rock-star status in such a way that probably led more than a few to attempt a more Gonzo approach to their writing (and substance intake).

To create a documentary retracing the good doctor's life seems a herculean (or is it hallucinogenic?) feat, but Alex Gibney does so with aplomb. While Thompson can be best summed up in his quotation, "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." The film manages to channel the weirdness through a lens of coherence that conveys to the viewer the backstory to H.S.T.'s life and ideologies in compelling fashion.

Perhaps the narrative thread most profoundly compelling throughout the film is the representation of Thompson as a patriot. So much attention has always been focused on the Gonzo aspect of H.S.T. that it has almost unintentionally at times dwarfed the fact that he was also supremely intelligent and ardently devoted to the preservation of the constitution and the maintenance of democracy in America. In light of the current era, where protests run rampant and we are once again screaming for change, it makes the absence of a true believer like H.S.T. profound.

With interviews from Thompson's ex-wife, widow and numerous politicians such as former President Jimmy Carter, George McGovern, Pat Buchanan, fellow co-workers, Rolling Stone's Jann Wenner and Thompson's own words, the brilliance of H.S.T. is in plain view. At one point he is described as "romantic" and this seems to be the through line throughout the film. The way he approached his life and work was wild and bohemian but underlying it all was a romanticism that inspired everything he did (whether his successes or failures) with passion. This was a man with enthusiasm.

It seems strange to hold a drug-doing, alcoholic gun enthusiast up as a great American hero, but in reality he was. He had the courage to do and say in public what people generally do in private. Furthermore, he did so with such an arcane grasp of the human language that inspired generations to be bold and be weird.

This film is a true beauty and one that Gonzo enthusiasts will welcome with open arms. It's sad to think that in this election year his voice is absent. I'm almost certain I know what candidate he would be rallying behind… and I think Jann Wenner (who tears up at the end when asked a question in regards to Hunter's passing) does too.

H.S.T. left a torch that is carried by many and yet none have come even remotely close to matching the brilliance, madness and weirdness that was Dr. Hunter S. Thompson… a true American original.

More information here: Magnolia Pictures and HDnet.

Play Dates below:

Irvine, CA: University Town Center 6 Cinemas
San Francisco, CA: Embarcadero Center Cinema
Washington, DC: E Street Cinema
Chicago, IL: Landmark's Century Centre Cinema
Cambridge, MA: Kendall Square Cinema
Baltimore, MD: Landmark Harbor East 7
Minneapolis, MN: Lagoon Cinema
New York, NY: Angelika Film Center (6)
Philadelphia, PA: Ritz at the Bourse
Austin, TX: Arbor Cinemas at Great Hills
Dallas, TX: Magnolia Theatre – Dallas

Royal Oak, MI: Main Art Theatre
University City, MO: Tivoli Theatre
Columbus, OH: Gateway 8

North Falmouth, MA: Nickelodeon Cinema 5
Charlotte, NC: Manor Theatre
Bend, OR: Pilot Butte 6 Theatres
Richmond, VA: Westhampton Cinema 2

Honolulu, HI: Doris Duke Theatre

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